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Growth Mindset: Reframing Negative Beliefs To Create “Space for Growth”

“I’m not good at spelling.”

We all have things we’re “not good at,” whether it’s spelling or math or playing piano or swimming backstroke. But approaching these things with the belief that we’re “not good” at them can hold us back; we can become stuck. This is what’s meant by a fixed mindset. But approaching a learning challenge with the idea that we can improve with practice creates “space for growth,” in the words of first grade teacher Karima Hastings. This is what’s meant by a growth mindset.

Growth mindset was the topic of a parent education presentation we held via Zoom on August 21. The presenters were Wendy Ritchey, a retired clinical psychologist and former Meher Schools board member and elementary teacher, and Karima (a Meher School alum). Warren Wallace, our director of admissions (also a Meher School alum), was the moderator. (You’ll find a link to a video of the presentation and a list of resources at the end of this article.)

A fixed mindset, Wendy explained, “assumes that intelligence, athletic, artistic, musical, and other abilities, or ‘talents,’ are fixed—you’re born with them or not. Practice is fruitless if you aren’t naturally gifted.” A fixed mindset “causes people to avoid things they might not excel at. They make excuses or get defensive in the face of failure, so they’re less likely to learn from their experience. Rather than learning from others’ success, they feel threatened by it.”

Fixed mindset doesn’t apply only to students who are struggling. A child who is already the best goalie on her soccer team may not be motivated to try to improve. This too is a form of fixed mindset.

Carol Dweck, a developmental psychologist at Stanford, popularized the notion of growth mindset through her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. She describes it this way: “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

Dweck’s research showed that people with a growth mindset achieve more than those with a fixed mindset. Wendy noted, “If you believe you can get smarter by continuing to challenge yourself, you’re going to embrace challenges and be persistent in the face of setbacks. You’re not afraid of failure. You’re going to learn through criticism rather than shying away from it. You’re inspired by others’ success, rather than being threatened by it—you look to them as models.”

Karima has been encouraging growth mindset in her students for years. “We listen to our students’ negative self-talk and help them reframe a negative statement in a healthier, more positive way.” One tool she finds particularly effective is adding “yet” to the end of a student’s negative statement—“I’m not good at spelling—yet. This opens the door for practice to improve on a skill.”

Developing a growth mindset, she added, “is a process. It’s not immediate. And it takes practice.”

Parents can help their children cultivate a growth mindset by identifying statements they make that reflect a fixed mindset and exploring ways to rethink their approach to learning in a positive way. Equally important is modeling a growth mindset in their interactions with their children. Taken together, Karima says, these “create space for growth.”

For parents who are interested in learning more about growth mindset, Dwerk’s book Mindset and The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel Seigel and Tina Payne Bryson are a good place to start.

We have a list of children's books to inspire their growth mindsets here.

Here's a link to a video of the growth mindset parent ed session.


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